Thursday, February 2, 2017

How do you get into hotel management?

Start as a night auditor; preferably in the largest full-service hotel, with the most food-and-beverage, meeting and banquet, lounge and gift shop operations on premises, that you can get to hire you.

It's actually a pretty easy job to get as far as hotel front-office jobs go - the hours are crap. It runs in most properties at 11 at night to 7 in the morning, (and no, it can't be done in the daytime), which is why the demand exceeds supply when the economy is good and jobs are plentiful, and why supply doesn't exceed demand by much when jobs are scarce and you see more people competing for any job they can get (including hotel night audit jobs with crappy hours). You don't want to be there forever, but as you yourself pointed out, you're there to learn.

That's where you learn how the numbers go together and what affects them, essential know-how for the management of any business.

Pay attention to what you're doing in that job. Back in the day, experience was a plus, but if you brought along sufficient accounting skills to balance your checkbook the old fashioned way (using the form printed on the back of your bank statement, making the entries and doing the math; rather than just checking your balance online), you could be trained - balancing accounts, after all, is most of what the job of night audit is about. (Most business get audited by their accountants every quarter. Hotels are unique in that they get audited every night.)  Nowadays, nearly all hotels have computerized front desk management systems; so to too many hire-for-personality-and-train-for-ability hotel 'administrators' and the people they insist on hiring, the job consists mostly of going down a list of reports to be printed, and printing out, and collating and routing, several stacks of reports. If it wasn't for the fact that it's necessary to do a bucket check and confirm the rates of all your guests, and make sure your cash and credit card totals balance (as well as your restaurant and banquet checks if it's a full-service hotel), a trained monkey or service animal could do it. 

But you want to be more than a button-pusher and report printer:  you want to read through those reports as you produce them, achieve an understanding of what those reports tell you, why they're necessary, and why they come up the way they do. Consider, every time you read through a bunch of numbers, if you want a certain figure on that report to come up differently (e.g., a revenue value to be increased, a cost factor to be decreased), what someone in the hotel must do to cause that to happen.

Cornell University, and quite a few other colleges and universities, have degree programs in hotel administration for people who want to go to work for a company like Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott or Kimpton, and move on to run a big, full-service luxury hotel. If you're just starting out in life, finishing high school, and you're confident that that's what you want to do with your life; then apply to two or three of them, including Cornell. Nearly all of them are good (before applying to any degree program at any college, I'd check behind them to see where their alumni are placed); but Cornell has the School of Hotel Administration that schools of hospitality administration, etc., at all other colleges and universities around the country all gather around on Sunday morning to bow down and pray to. (The school of journalism at Columbia, the school of architecture at Yale, and Harvard Law enjoy similar status within their own respective fields: hotel management is the thing for which Cornell enjoys the highest reputation.) So, if that's where you are with your life, apply to Cornell as well as one or two of the others, just to see if you can get into Cornell. You don't have to worry about where Cornell's alumni are placed: if you can get them to take you, you could someday run the Waldorf.

Some of the stuff you're going to see here, however, is things that you can pick up at the local comm-tech - or even on your own. Formal education will give you a running start and some industry contacts, and teach you a lot of things it would take you a long time to pick up on your own. But if you don't have that much of it, don't sweat it. I've seen people with advanced degrees perform dismally at this business, and they still have a job. I've seen people whose education is limited to a GED and a few night classes, given the right opportunity, do well at it.

Either way, there is no substitute for the hands-on experience and the recordkeeping experience you acquire on night audit. If I'm doing the hiring for a general manager or assistant general manager -- any salaried management accountability -- of a property, I require a minimum of six months experience as a full-time night auditor - regardless of education (even a degree from Cornell) and previous experience (even hotel management experience) -  and the only reason I don't require more is because doing so would thin out the pool of qualified applicants more than it's worth. I might, very rarely, cut someone a break on the requirement if they have previous management experience and I know them personally and know how they work (Favoritism? Perhaps, but reference checks have limited value in this business, I have to go on some rational basis, and I neither accept nor content myself with any substitute for my own personal knowledge . . .). But by the time I put them in charge of an investment worth four million dollars or more (probably someone else's investment, but one for which I myself am accountable), they're going to have some night audit experience - their first day on the job, like it or not, is going to begin at 11pm. 

The knowledge, skills, and abilities required of a night auditor are much the same as those required for a manager – and will be called into play, if not quite as frequently, with a suddenness that requires thinking fast and making choices that, when second-guessed, prove to be correct, or at least respectable. (You're all alone, the only employee – indeed, the only representative of the entire company – on the property at 3:30 a.m. An incident comes up – often a recordkeeping mess left behind by a desk clerk, but perhaps something that challenges your diplomatic skills with a guest or visitor, perhaps something that tests your understanding of building engineering or maintenance, perhaps something bizarre or unusual, perhaps something that might have serious consequences for yourself, a guest, or even the hotel itself, perhaps even the entire company. The general manager or AGM can be called – maybe – but even if so, he or she will like you a lot more if you don't get him or her out of bed at that hour of the morning, especially if your own handling of the situation is sound. You're in charge – what are you going to do?).

And don't stop there. (As you'll see, you can be stalled there for a very long time if you do.)  Another important part of it is sales and marketing.

  • You can be an operational bozo with no organizational skills whatsoever, who isn't competent to manage the inside of an empty paper bag without letting it deflate; but if you have a high level of social skills, networking ability, lots of contacts, and a proven talent for bringing in business for the hotel, someone, somewhere will hire you in a senior management position -- and put people around you to serve as drones who are operationally competent, who pick up the slack, who actually do the work involved in managing the operation and delivering on the things you promise your customers, and who are put and kept there to make you look good. It won't be me, although I might look at you for a sales and marketing slot [and that's not the first thing I look for in an applicant for a business development accountability]. Sorry if I sound cynical, but I've seen it happen too many times: indeed, one of the reasons I formed my own company was that I got sick of seeing it. It's also half the reason that I - as noted - put limited faith in reference checks. 
  • On the other hand, you can be Seth Godin's Linchpin ( incarnate - and we'll come back to Seth . . .); you can be the one guy who can be counted upon to keep the property running like a fine watch; you can have the highest technical skills, you can be absolutely aces when it comes to management ability, you can able to supervise a large staff and keep everyone working efficiently and happily, you can know and understand the business operation inside out; you can keep the rooms clean, and the front desk operation and reservation system running tight, and the building warm, and the bottom line in the black no matter what the conditions or circumstances . . . but if you don't know how to generate business for your hotel, your career prospects could be limited to being one of those drones.
Many newer, larger and/or corporate-owned hotels have a 'director of sales' or a 'sales manager', at $30k per year give or take, but most of the training they get, at least from within the hotel industry itself, is all wrong. The biggest reason why is that it's all uniform, yet every hotel and every location is unique and has unique needs. 

There are some common principles that apply to all hotel sales and marketing, but you want to do what works best for the hotel in which you're doing it - and have the wisdom to know the difference. How to do it right is a subject in itself, but try to get started doing it at a smaller property where you can pick up the sales and marketing accountability as part of another job in the hotel - just the opposite of the sort of property I recommend to learn to do night audit. Many smaller, family-owed hotels who don't have someone already dedicated to working on it will be glad to let you have it. (You don't have to worry about having, or earning, credentials for it: either you can do it or you can't, and if you can, word will get around . . .)  
  • Use the resources available to you by your hotel's franchise organization (e.g., study the group booking contract forms, know the revenue tracks, know the four primary travel market segments [business travelers, extended-stay travelers, leisure travelers traveling as singles or couples, and leisure family travelers] and how to identify and the address the needs of each, etc.) 
  • Realize that half of what you're going to attempt isn't going to work, and focus on identifying what's working and what's not, and doing more of what works and less of what doesn't work. Be candid about your results.
  • Pay more attention to people like Seth Godin, and Karl at The Startup Daily, both of whom publish blogs you'll find useful ( , ), and limited attention to 'industry professionals' (I'll get back to those). 
  • Run your own source-of-business reports if your property's computer system doesn't do it for you, and analyze the heck out of the data you get back; where your present business is coming from, how to get more of it if it's working for you, and how to reach business that you're not getting.
  • Don't get into cold-calling, or telemarketing, unless you're specifically told to by someone who's micro-managing you, or unless you're one of those DOS types who feel they have to spend a lot of time doing it just to prove to management that they're trying. These are time-consuming techniques that are dismally ineffective by contrast to the time consumed doing them. (Many will argue the point with me, but even those people will admit they don't like being on the receiving end of a cold sales call, and hate telemarketers who call them.)
I could go on and on. This is one of those Quora posts that over time, I'll keep coming back to and editing.

It helps if you also show up with some background in 
  • building construction, engineering and maintenance. A repair can be costly unless you know enough about it to know which options to explore.
  • food service. There is a new tier of hotel product emerging - the upscale select service property (e.g., Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt Place, Courtyard, Hotel Indigo, Wyndham Garden Inn and the like) - and food service is re-emerging as a valuable skill in this market tier.
  • retail. People skills will move you along much faster in this business. Some people put too much emphasis on that, but a certain level of competence and confidence in this area is essential. For some people, it comes naturally; others (for example, introverts like me) have to work on it.
Read everything you can get your hands on on the state of the business. I would recommend, as the very first place to start, two editions of the same book (believe it or not, two editions published 30-40 years apart will read very differently . . .) Find a recent edition of Jerome Vallen's Check In, Check Out (it's used as a college text, so the current edition will always be a little pricy, but you can get them used on Amazon - - and the last previous edition will be current enough). Then, go find an edition of the same book from about 1974,1977 or 1980. It's changed that much since then. But the older edition has a lot of information that isn't dated or useless, and it actually does a better job of starting with the basics. 

Subscribe to as many industry blogs, and read all of the trade publications that you can. (My own suggestions are , , , to start; and you'll want to seek, find and add your own, and please share them with me.) 

Some of it is useful. Now that Quora is becoming a gathering spot for an encouraging subset of  'hospitality industry' types, I'm very interested in seeing what my new  friend Susan's new blog I'm Changing the Name of This Later is going to shape up to be once she starts posting more material to it. Whatever material you read, you have to discern, and make the call - and revisit the subject from time to time, and notice when maybe you're wrong, and reconsider . . . It might work in theory, but will it work in real life? Nearly half the hotel managers in the world don't get that, nearly all of the other half don't even try. Be one of the ones who do both.

Remember,  however, that this material is informative, but judgment is required in  application. Much of it is press releases by corporate owners or  management companies (e.g., "Fergus T. Wingo Promoted To Assistant To Assistant Special Projects Director at Carlson Wagonlit"), and columns and blogs by people looking to advance their own resume value or marketability as consultants  (e.g., "How to Engage Your Staff In Providing Fantabulous Service!"),  all trying to make themselves look good. You decide whether they look good, and whether what they're sharing is, or isn't, useful from day to day. 

No one - not even I - is going to hand you everything you need to know. Actually, that's not true, any number of people might hand it to you - but if we ever meet, I'll know within five minutes after you open your mouth if you're one of those who had it handed to you, because you'll be spouting off the same old crap that never worked or had a chance of working,  that's been circulating for years and that you've obviously never considered or contemplated critically. You'll sound 'informed' (as in, all you ever needed to know never really amounted to much), but have you ever really thought over any of this stuff you're saying?

It's not about who you know (although with far too many 'hospitality industry professionals', it is, much to my frequent annoyance), but if you show up for an interview with me, and the name Anthony Melchiorri (Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible ) or Gordon Ramsay (FOX Broadcasting | Programming Schedule ) doesn't ring a bell with you, you lose a point or two. Or, if you watch those guys faithfully, as someone who's really into the game of hotel management will (for reasons I'm about to share), you might score some points. I watch Hotel Impossible, but that's not the reason you want to give me for watching it yourself. Anthony's the real deal (unlike most of the people in the 'hospitality industry' who show up in the trade magazines), his show truly is a contribution, he teaches me things . . . and no, I'm not ashamed to admit that I learn to do my job better from watching a TV program on cable: if it works, it works.  Anyone who's really serious about being into hotel management will be familiar with the programs and have watched at least some of the episodes.

For the record, I'm not a believer in the idea that 'management experience is management experience', as many people who hire 'middle management' types do. I don't consider hotel managers and video store managers and theatre managers and restaurant managers and convenience store managers to be interchangeable warm bodies. If you come to work for Beechmont, you're going to be running a hotel (or more likely, starting out, helping one to run), and for that, I really like to see people who are into hotels . . . just as if I was hiring a garage mechanic to work on my car, I'd want a guy who spends his off-time tearing down engines and rebuilding them and looking for ways to make them perform better . . . My definition of 'professional'? Someone who's always in the game.  An example? Tiger Woods. He wins the Masters, that's great, he has something to celebrate, so what does he do the next day? How would you spend the next day if it were you? Go on a resort vacation, take a long trip and reward yourself?  Relax for several days?  No . .  he goes out to the course and practices.  Another? My former neighbor from across the street in the neighborhood where I last rented before I bought my house.  He spent a career working for the airlines as an A and P mechanic - fixing airplane engines in an environment where you do repairs by the numbers and there's no margin for mistakes - and now that he's retired what does he do?  He's got a garage and shop behind his house with the ultimate set of tools, not a drop of oil or a spot of grease on the floor to be seen, he can fix anything, and he's a good guy to know if you need a favor, because he likes fixing stuff: if every job paid the same, that's what he'd be doing. He's the 'go-to' guy in the neighborhood if you're having a problem with your car or your riding mower, or if you break your weed whacker.

Finally, I'll leave you with my usual disclaimer about career advice, resume-writing, interviewing, etc. - all of this will work great if I'm the one doing the hiring. It's what I'd want an applicant for a management job to show up with. But every individual has their own criteria; and as always, qualifications are whatever whoever's doing the qualifying says the qualifications are. What I'm telling you here is how to learn hotel management (and there's still no substitute for doing it), not necessarily how to get a good job managing a hotel (before forming my own company, that one always kept me stumped more times than I care to recall . . .). For that, you're on your own. But I hope here to give you something you might find helpful, that will serve you well and empower you to succeed no matter how you get your chance at it. 

Indeed, I've ripped off an interviewing trick from one of the smarter owners I've dealt with: if I look at you for a hotel management job, we're going to become e-mail pals for a few weeks. I want to hear from you all about what you're going to do with that hotel if I turn it over to you. It'll take more than one exchange of e-mails - I want to see that you're forming a realistic plan, for that particular hotel in that particular location, not just giving me your canned sales pitch, and I want to see you're asking the right questions. (When I look at a new hotel to sign, the first thing I look for now is its STAR reports if I can get them, its TripAdvisor reviews, and anything else I can get about that hotel and its nearby competitors - even photos and promotional material - from open sources. That'll give me a pretty good idea what I'm going to find - and look for next - when I get there.)  I want to see the motivation it takes to keep coming up with new ideas and keep those e-mails coming two or three times a week for several weeks. Keep that in mind as a potentially useful exercise as you progress in preparing yourself for a career move in hotel management. Just for drill, run it on any hotel you'd like. Get in the habit of doing that. (But don't neglect the other steps.)

Originally appeared on Quora

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